Jingkieng jri: Living Root Bridge Cultural Landscapes

Date of Submission: 17/02/2022
Criteria: (i)(iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 6606

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The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party



Name of village or Group of villages

Site Coordinates



25°13' N, 92°0' E



25°13' N, 92°1' E



25°13' N, 92°1' E



25°15' N, 92°0' E



25°13' N, 91°59' E


Nongbareh Lyntiar

25°13' N, 92°0' E



25°12' N, 92°0' E


Sohkha Mission

25°12' N, 92°1' E


Sohkha Model

25°12' N, 92°2' E


Sohkha Phlang

25°12' N, 92°2' E



25°12' N, 92°4' E



25°16' N, 92°1' E



25°16' N, 91°49' E



25°21' N, 91°49' E



25°22' N, 91°50' E



25°21' N, 91°49' E


Massar Dymmiew

25°21' N, 91°47' E


Nongsteng, Pomramdah, Kiengshympet, Lummawshken, Wahkaliar (Elaka Nongsteng)

25°16' N, 91°37' E



25°14' N, 91°39' E



25°14' N, 91°39' E



25°16' N, 91°51' E


Mawlam, Mawiang, Ryngkew (Raid Mawlam)

25°15' N, 91°49' E



25°15' N, 91°50' E



25°11' N, 91°49' E



25°18' N, 91°51' E



25°18' N, 91°56' E



25°18' N, 91°55' E



25°15' N, 91°46' E



25°18' N, 91°38' E



25°13' N, 91°45' E



25°16' N, 91°44' E


Mawrap (Raid Tynrong)

25°14' N, 91°37' E



25°12' N, 91°49' E


Mawkliaw Kemrang

25°13' N, 91°48' E



25°18' N, 91°51' E



25°20' N, 91°51' E



25°22' N, 91°50' E



25°19' N, 91°45' E



25°12' N, 91°53' E



25°12' N, 91°53' E



25°11' N, 91°53' E



25°11' N, 91°54' E


Nongthymmai (Elaka Tyrna)

25°14' N, 91°40' E



25°15' N, 91°40' E



25°12' N, 91°40' E



25°13' N, 91°39' E



25°14' N, 91°57' E



25°13' N, 91°58' E


Shiliang Jashar

25°13' N, 91°53' E



25°15' N, 91°54' E


Nongthymmai Kyndiar

25°13' N, 91°53' E


Nongjri, Pungweikyian, Tishang

25°11' N, 91°48' E



25°12' N, 91°56' E



25°19' N, 91°51' E



25°17' N, 91°52' E



25°16' N, 91°52' E



25°13' N, 91°52' E



25°17' N, 91°52' E



25°15' N, 91°58' E



25°20' N, 91°48' E


Pdei Puhbsein

25°20' N, 91°47' E



25°17' N, 91°48' E


Thangkyrta, Mawtongreng, Langsteng, Nongbah, Dewiong, Pdang, Jarain (Raid Nongbah Mawshuit)


25°18' N, 91°48' E


Rymmai, Mawshken (Raid Rymmai)

25°18' N, 91°46' E


Sohkynduh, Mawshken

25°16' N, 91°46' E



25°17' N, 91°36' E



25°13' N, 91°23' E



25°12' N, 91°33' E



25°15' N, 91°37' E



25°12' N, 91°44' E



25°21' N, 91°45' E


Thangrai, Nongnah

25°15' N, 91°45' E

Locally known as Jingkieng Jri, Living Root Bridges (LRB) are Ficus-based rural connectivity and livelihood solutions within dense subtropical moist broadleaf forest eco-region of Meghalaya in the eastern extension of the Indian Peninsular Plateau. Grown by indigenous Khasi tribal communities, these structural ecosystems have performed in extreme climatic conditions for centuries, and encapsulate a profound harmony between humans and nature. The underlying knowledge and skill has evolved through generations and continues to be practiced today, affirming its exceptional value and relevance. Facilitating connectivity and disaster resilience in more than 75 remote villages in and near the wettest region on Earth, LRB validate outstanding ingenuity and resilience of an ancient culture, where collective cooperation and reciprocity were the fundamental building blocks of life.

Early 19th century published accounts of Living Bridges confirm an exceptional tradition of India rubber tree-based bridge construction near Cherrapunji. Validating their increasing strength and ingenious use of root inosculation, these records highlight important engineering and botanical attributes, which contribute to overall structural robustness. Though the terminology of ‘Living Bridges’ focuses on bridge morphology, recent studies have revealed significant diversity including ladders, platforms, towers, steps and erosion/landslide prevention structures. Each Living structure or Jingkieng jri constitutes a unique site-specific response, where form and function have evolved through sustained human interaction with environment. Functionally, each category plays a distinct role: bridges, ladders and steps provide a reliable mode of transport especially during monsoon season; platforms and towers provide an opportunity for recreation and security; erosion and landslide prevention structures facilitate slope protection and soil stabilization. In addition to load-bearing structural use, India rubber trees have also been used for extracting caoutchouc (latex) for waterproofing and hunting, validating their special significance in Meghalaya.

Besides playing a critical socio-economic role within each village, Ficus-based Living structures also contribute to the ecology through forest and riparian restoration. The indigenous community, including traditional farmers and hunters, continue to use and nurture these structures, reinforcing the remarkable spirit of their ancestors.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Following values have been identified towards inscription of Living Root Bridge Cultural Landscapes:

- Each Living Root Structure reveals a distinct ethno-botanical journey rooted in profound culture- nature reciprocity and synthesis. The intergenerational growth process of nurturing a sapling into a robust load-bearing structure in extreme climate and geography reveals exceptional enterprise and skill, suggesting a masterpiece of human creative genius.

-  Continued growth and use of LRB across more than 75 villages prone to extreme rainfall related disaster events reveals a critical survival practice, which has evolved through deep immersion and experimentation in a remote and distinctive environment. The techniques and morphologies developed through a shared culture-nature journey suggest an apogee of human-plant relationship, indicating a remarkable breakthrough in nature-based design and engineering.

- Embedded in an ancient way of life, LRB converge insights from a range of fields including - vernacular architecture and engineering; traditional craft and farming; native flora and fauna; soil, water and forest conservation; climate response and climate change resilience. Distinctive Khasi systems including laws of inheritance and succession, laws of consanguinity and kinship, traditional land and forest classification, and village dorbor-based governance, have also shaped the overall context. Together, these practices exemplify profound acuity and wisdom of the community.

- Rooted in a collective tribal identity and a spirit of cooperation, the practice of LRB has been nurtured by ancient Khasi belief, moral code of conduct, and rules of etiquette, which highlight the importance of righteous thought and action for collective well-being. Various indigenous stories, songs and practices celebrate a unified vision of reality -where God, nature and humans are an indivisible whole. In addition to LRB, this vision is reflected in other indigenous practices including various forms of nature worship, preservation of sacred groves, and belief in an abode of spirits.

- With 1) an inclusive growth process across multiple generations, 2) progressive increase in strength and performance, 3) high robustness and longevity in extreme conditions, 4) remedial impact on surrounding soil, water and forest, 5) support for flora and fauna, and 6) keystone role of Ficus plant species in local ecology, LRB reveal an important milestone in the evolution of living plant-based construction. As an evolving research domain, LRB have become global icons for sustainability and can play a pivotal role for realizing an equitable vision for humanity.

Criterion (i): Created through profound ingenuity and tenacity of the indigenous Khasi community, Living Root Bridges represent the pinnacle of human-plant interaction. As critical rural connectivity solutions in extreme environment, these community-based structures have withstood extreme rainfall related disaster events for centuries, and represent a breakthrough in nature-based engineering, specifically bridge design and construction. The intergenerational growth process of nurturing a sapling into a robust load-bearing structure reveals unparalleled culture-nature convergence in a continually evolving cultural landscape - blending physical, social, political, economic, technological and spiritual links. The distinctive Ficus aerial root-based intertwined-inosculated aesthetic is a result of continual human-plant contact and experimentation over centuries, and testifies to innumerable generations working together towards a collective purpose.

Criterion (iii): Rooted in a cooperative approach of the entire community, the inter-generational growth process of LRB constitutes a remarkable living cultural tradition of Meghalaya. The practice is embedded within the traditional farming - hunting - livelihood context of the indigenous Khasi community in more than 75 villages, and has evolved in response to critical need for connectivity in an extreme environment. The underlying participatory growth process broadly involves four interconnected stages - visioning, siting, planting, and nurturing. Each stage represents true understanding of the ecosystem, and requires specific skills converging tangible and intangible insights from various domains including vernacular craft and construction, traditional cultivation and conservation, and community-based design.

Criterion (vi): Reflecting a vital attribute of Khasi society, LRB embody a harmonious relationship between humans and the environment, and uphold natures’ wholeness and indivisibility. As per indigenous belief, only an elder, who has no children, can plant the Ficus sapling for a Living Root Bridge. Interpreted as a profound act of giving and merging with ‘mother nature’ (meiramew in Khasi language), this ancient faith is an extension of profound Khasi kinship with nature and indigenous code of conduct, which highlights the importance of righteousness in thought and action for collective well-being. As the young Ficus sapling is collectively nurtured, and as each root is sensitively guided and intertwined over centuries, a profound phenomenon unfolds and emphasizes the fundamental essence of life: unity.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: As an exemplar of a "continuing cultural landscape", the authenticity of Living Root Bridges relates to sustaining an ancient evolving system, which perceptually balanced climatic, geographical, ecological, economic, social, political, religious, agronomic and other interconnected factors. Khasi communities maintained the intactness of the bridges’ original nature-based growth process for centuries and ensured the prevalence of its use within the traditional farming context through profound cooperation, ingenuity and adaptability. With continued use of their ancestral land in a traditional manner, the underlying relationships and practices have remained intact and incorporated various evolutionary changes. However, recent changes pertaining to infrastructure development and socio-economic circumstances have revealed the importance of sustained conservation and management. The proposed Phase wise Serial Nomination approach will provide an appropriate framework for inspiring long-term commitment towards protection. This will be informed by credible information sources, including 19th century published accounts, 20th and 21st century records, and precise analysis of existing LRB. Together these and other relevant sources will provide a practical basis for authenticity.

Integrity: Living Root Bridges as experienced by humans today are a result of a profound cooperative effort of indigenous Khasi communities for centuries. Involving continued nourishment of Ficus saplings and twining of its roots, together with maintenance of riverine habitat and surrounding terrain, Khasis persevered through extreme climate to grow these links and ensure access to their farms and markets. The integrity of LRB relates to sustaining the ancient system of collaborative nature-based construction embedded within the traditional farming-hunting context. Though a significant number of LRB are in a healthy condition and continue to be maintained and used in the traditional manner, some sites face a threat due to evolutionary and technological changes. These factors are being addressed through implementation of appropriate management and protection measures, including a zone-based conservation regulation. The Phase wise Serial Nomination approach will provide a frame for incorporating the specificity of each site and its unique human-environment relationship. This method is evolving through an open consultative process, which involves studying each site through an extended timeframe, understanding the underlying relationships, and nurturing a community-based approach for sustained protection and management. A nature-based conservation Cooperative is being nurtured for equitable development of all villages. Nominated property will include the Ficus-based Living structure as the core, and the surrounding village and catchment as the buffer. This will ensure representation of all attributes, which contribute to property’s significance.

Comparison with other similar properties

Living Root Bridge Cultural Landscapes stand out for their exemplary human-environment relationship and pioneering use of Ficus specie for connectivity and disaster resilience in extreme climate. Though a direct comparison is unlikely, we would like to compare specific attributes of four properties:

- Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Ifugao Province, Cordillera Region, Luzon Island, Philippines: Inscribed as a living cultural landscape in 1995, the high rice fields of Ifugao reveal a two millennia old communal system of rice production based on a delicate and sustainable use of natural resources. Through blending of physical, socio-cultural, economic, religious and political factors, the ancient agricultural system created steep terraced landscapes of great aesthetic beauty and represents the labor of more than a thousand generations of farmers who worked together as a community. Involving water harvesting from forested mountaintops and regular construction of stone terraces and ponds, the property reinforces a harmonious relationship between people and their environment.

In comparison, the evolution of both LRB and the Rice Terraces of Ifugao is intertwined with that of its people, and their traditional tribal culture, beliefs and practices. Both properties highlight an integrated approach, which connects tangible and intangible attributes within the interlinked systems of environment. Though conservation and management in both cases has posed complex challenges, lessons from cultural revival and traditional knowledge-based adaptive local development in Ifugao are valuable for LRB. Conversely, continued traditional use of significant number of LRB despite evolutionary and technological changes can be an important reference for the Rice terraces. While both properties reveal exceptional engineering and material knowledge in a mountain landscape, LRB stand out for their contextual specificity of addressing critical need of connectivity in an extreme environment using a living plant, which can withstand extreme rainfall related disaster events.

- Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and the Islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto), Liguria region, Italy: Inscribed as an evolved organic landscape in 1997, the landscape, terraces and settlements of Liguria reveal a 1000-year-old traditional communal agricultural system for growing vines and olive trees in a difficult coastal environment. Through determined transformation of a steep and broken terrain into a flourishing agricultural site, traditional communities created a source of sustainable livelihood and a landscape of exceptional scenic quality. The underlying traditional system involving constant repair of dry stonewalls around the cultivated fields was severely affected in 20th century and has been recently restored through an integrated conservation and management strategy.

In comparison, both LRB and the viti-cultural agricultural landscape of Liguria demonstrate exceptional human endeavor and adaptation in a challenging environment. While LRB reveal true understanding and application of Ficus ecosystem for connectivity and disaster resilience in a sub-tropical context, the agricultural terraces of Liguria reflect genuine expertise in grape and olive cultivation within a coastal setting. While both properties demonstrate authentic ethno-botanical-engineering links, which have sustained communities for millennia, LRB stand out due to their widespread and unparalleled intergenerational use of a living plant for bridge construction. An absolute understanding of Ficus material limits was critical for safety of LRB, and this represents an apex of human-plant interaction. Both properties face complex conservation challenges and lessons from revitalization of Cinque Terre, especially linking of tourism with conservation, and nurturing a traditional wine Cooperative are valuable for LRB.

- Q’eswachaka bridge, Peru: Spanning a deep gorge of Apurimac River in Southern Andes, the knowledge, skills and rituals related to annual renewal of the Q’eswachaka bridge were inscribed on the representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2013. Seen as a means for strengthening social links and as a transport route, the underlying construction method involves yearly community-based reconstruction using traditional Inca techniques, raw materials and rites to create a remarkable grass rope suspension link. The bridge holds special significance for Quechua-speaking peasant communities and is considered a sacred expression of the communities’ bond with nature, tradition and history. The construction technique involving twisting, braiding and weaving of local qoya ichu grass is taught and learned within the family and continues as a vibrant tradition of the region.

In comparison, both LRB and the Q’eswachaka bridge involve application of traditional knowledge, resources and skills for connectivity in extreme geography. While LRB reveal exemplary engineering of Ficus plant specie, the Quechua communities have mastered the use of qoya ichu grass. Both constructions reveal genuine ingenuity and spirit making them compelling community-based sustainable infrastructures and living traditions. While the annual renewal process of the Q’eswachaka bridge involves specific ritual ceremonies, which periodically reinforce the sacred nature-culture bonds, LRB stand out for superior sustainability and resilience owing to use of a living plant specie in an environment prone to disaster events. Further, existing use of significant number of Living Structures in diverse morphologies including bridges, ladders, towers, platforms and soil erosion/landslide prevention structures highlights inherent technology adaptability and scope.

- Ironbridge Gorge, United Kingdom of Great Briton and Northern Ireland: Inscribed in 1986, the Ironbridge is the world’s first known metal bridge constructed of cast iron. Built in 1779, the structure had far-reaching global impact on technology and architecture, and has remained a symbol of industrial revolution and human progress. The bridge spans 100 feet (30 meters) over River Severn in Coalbrookdale, and consists of five 70-foot long semi-circular cast-iron ribs highlighting the pioneering method of using coke for making iron. Using a customized component manufacturing method and an innovative joinery technique inspired from traditional carpentry, the robustness of the finished structure through the great flood of 1795 gave confidence to engineers globally and laid the foundation for structural use of cast iron. With a remarkable performance over 242 years since its construction, Ironbridge is celebrated as a monument to British industry.

In comparison, both LRB and Ironbridge represent important milestones in bridge design and engineering through profound innovation in material, form, structure and technique. As the world’s first known living bridges, LRB highlight the unprecedented and widespread use of living Ficus plants for connectivity in extreme environment. Similarly, as the world’s first metal bridge, Ironbridge demonstrates a metallurgical and structural breakthrough with cast iron. While LRB emerged through a remarkable community-based approach of indigenous Khasi tribes, Ironbridge developed through collaboration between architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and ironmaster Abraham Darby III. Both case studies represent distinctive aesthetics rooted in their specific contexts, with LRB exemplifying profound interactions in environment, and Iron bridge illustrating its industrial setting. Though both structures reveal exceptional vision and value, LRB demonstrate greater resilience and sustainability through its inclusive growth process rooted in a sacred worldview, progressive increase in robustness in extreme environment, and use of living keystone plant specie which revitalizes its ecosystem. Representing a supreme model for primitive ingenuity and craft technology, LRB are being acknowledged as authentic global markers for a sustainable future and offer profound educational and research opportunities for a responsible shift in design, engineering and construction.